In part two of Bryce’s introductory blog series, we ask and he answers: why TomTod, why middle schoolers, and what’s the big deal about ideation?
Tell us, why TomTod Ideas? And why middle schoolers?
TomTod Ideas fascinates me. I work here and I’m still fascinated. It’s an organization that is working to create a culture of creativity and ideation that produces change. And more than just being a think tank or design hub, TomTod Ideas leverages some of the most powerful untapped potential the world has: middle schoolers. Young people. They’re kids, they’re teens, they’re changing the world and the world hardly gives them credit. We work to give them credit where it’s due.
All of our students’ stories are proof that middle schoolers can change the world, just take a gander and you’ll see. But it’s not just TomTod Ideas students that are doing this. We have middle school and teenage heroes around the globe.
A group of middle schoolers are racing a human-powered kinetic sculpture—and they’ve built it themselves. Malala Yousafzai challenges the world to make education a first-rate priority for women and girls. She was attacked by Taliban when she was 15 years old because of it. At age 12, Zach Hunter learned that human slaves exist in the world—right now, today—and was determined to help end modern day slavery.
So middle schoolers might be hyper, rambunctious, and maybe a little dramatic sometimes (aren’t we all?), but they have the potential, the drive, and above all, the imagination to dream up wonderful crazy things that make the world a better place in which to live.
So what’s the big deal about ideation?
I’m glad you didn’t use the word why in this question.
Well, the two go hand in hand—ideation and not asking why. One of the things I’ve seen happen in almost any creative setting is that asking “why?” too much can be detrimental—to creativity, to ideation, and ultimately, to people.
The best work to come out of a creative setting usually begins with an idea that is constructed audaciously, without hindrance and without immediately being told “no, you can’t do that” or “no, that would never work.” The reason traditional brainstorming is so ineffective is because people are afraid to express creative, crazy, wild ideas to the large group since they will be immediately shot down—or they’re afraid they will be.
That’s why when we begin an ideation session at TomTod Ideas, we always start with an “anything goes” process. Have an idea? Write it on a sticky note and toss it up on the wall. Everybody gets sticky notes, everybody has ideas, nobody gets shot down. We don’t ask why? We don’t even ask why not?
Instead, we ask what if? Asking what if? opens the door to imagination, ideation, and creative problem solving more effectively than questions that can hinder or even halt the process—questions like why?
This ideation process of course needs mediation in some way. You can’t throw hundreds of ideas up on the wall and expect to try, implement, or test every single one. That’s why we have stages in our ideation sessions. In the initial stages we expect everyone to stretch their imaginations to the craziest and wildest possibility, and in later stages we challenge everyone to think on a much smaller scale, asking, “What if you only had $100 to implement this idea? What if you had zero dollars?” “What if you only had the resources available in your neighborhood? What if the only stuff you had available was in your house?”
It’s a great process that challenges everyone to think on both sides of the spectrum: limitless and limited. Great ideas usually come somewhere in between. And when you challenge students to think and ideate on both sides of that spectrum, they learn to think and ideate holistically, and they begin to answer questions and solve problems in new and more creative ways than they ever had before.